Three times the children of William Allen Cunningham had to be rushed to the hospital emergency room due to illness. The children are aged 18 months and 3 years of age. Each time at the emergency room, the father told personnel there that the children became ill after eating a bowl of soup.
At some point Cunningham allegedly contacted the soup company and made a claim that his children were made ill after eating the soup and he blamed them for the trips to the emergency room for the children and told them he planned to sue.
William Cunningham has now been indicted by the Grand Jury for adding a “foreign substance” to the soup, and attempting to extort money from the company. He has been charged with 3 counts of product tampering, one count of making false statements and wire fraud for his contacts with the soup company.
The US attorney has stated that Cunningham allegedly told police that he intended to get money from the company by suing the company for his children’s illnesses.
Cunningham did not work regularly, and was often at home caring for the children. It is alleged that on Jan. 1 Cunningham prepared some soup for the 3 year old boy, added a foreign substance to it, and gave it to the child. The child became ill and was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released.
Fifteen days later, on Jan. 15 it is alleged that Cunningham prepared SpaghettiO’s and franks and fed it to both children. On that trip to the hospital, a nurse alleges that she smelled something similiar to lighter fluid. It was at that point that Cunningham called the soup company. The company checked for other complaints and did not find any. However they did send some documents to Cunningham, to get more information about the claim and requested that Cunningham send them the packaging on the products.
Two weeks later,, Jan. 29 it is alleged that Cunningham prepared a bowl of soup for the children and added the antidepressants Prozac and amitriptyline to it. Allegedly the little boy reacted badly to the soup and stopped eating it. But allegedly, Cunningham force fed the soup to the 18 month old girl. She became so ill that she had to be airlifted to the hospital. Both children were hospitalized for about a week. A toxic screen was completed and came back positive for the two antidepressants.
The wife has not been charged in the crime, and she now has custody of the children. It is said she was not aware of the crime, until after the third hospital trip, then she began to get the idea that something was wrong.
Allegedly the father had trouble keeping a job. And instead of finding a job and working to keep it, the man who is allegedly a father- decided to inflict pain and fear on children, in order to make a profit from it. Not just once. He did it again and again. Until finally at least one of the children became severely ill.
Was he in need of money? Or just tired of being the caregiver for the children? Neither is an excuse for endangering the children’s lives.
Neighbors have said that Cunningham was known in the neighborhood as a loner. His criminal history consisted mainly of misdemeanors, harrassing phone calls, terroristic threats, and drunken driving. He was married once before and the first wife claimed “cruel and inhumane treatment” as the reason for the divorce. There were no children from that marraige which was finalized in Sept. 2001, and six months later he married his current wife.
Warrants indicate the first bowl of soup may have been laced with hot pepper. The boy’s mouth and face swelled and burned, and that resulted in his being taken to the hospital.
The wife has served him papers requesting a divorce. Her attorney indicates she is now afraid of him.
Cunningham is now charged with child cruelty in the county courts. An attorney has filed for bond. But if released on bond in the county court, Cunningham will then be held on the federal charges. A federal grand jury has now indited Cunningham on charges of product tampering, mail and wire fraud, and making false statements.
Cunningham’s wife filed for divorce in May. He has been found guilty of communicating false claims for his calls to Campbell’s Soup Company threatening to sue. He has been sentenced to 5 years. The judge ordered no contact with his ex-wife and children.